Harlem Renaissance in the American West

The study, The Harlem Renaissance in the American West, shifted the focus of the Harlem Renaissance away from New York City’s Harlem to the cities and states of the American West, and away from literature to the full range of the creative arts.

It is inspired by the broadened view of the early twentieth century African American literary and artistic movement that has established that while the Renaissance was centered in New York, it was a national phenomenon.

The traditional view held that while few of the participants in the Harlem Renaissance were from Harlem, all spent considerable time there.  We determined that while most of the writers and artists associated with the movement spent significant time in Harlem, and most considered themselves part of the Renaissance, many also spent long periods of their careers away from Harlem, and some spent most or all of their creative careers outside of New York.

The black experience in the West clearly establishes that not only did many participants in the Harlem Renaissance have western roots or western connections but in communities across the West African Americans were involved in black art, literature, and music both as consumers and as artists themselves.

In her 2008 book, From Greenwich Village to Taos: Primitivism and Place at Mabel Dodge Luhan's, Flannery Burke observed that the term Harlem Renaissance "is a misnomer that fails to acknowledge the cultural activities of African Americans prior to the 1920s and in areas outside New York City." Our volume pursues Burke's comment by investigating the West.  

Given the relatively small African American population in the West, a disproportionate number of black writers and artists had roots in the West before they came to Harlem.